Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Lesson 1474 Border to Border New Hampshire Walk – Day 12 ($10 an Hour)

By Wendythomas @wendyenthomas

Day 12 – Sanbornton to Canterbury

Because of our detour to a different hotel, it meant that this morning we’d have to walk about 5 miles out of our way to get back on the road we were supposed to be on. Griffin and I decided to use a taxi for those 5 miles.

This time I made sure we had hotel reservations for the evening before we even went downstairs for breakfast, no more surprises for us.

Breakfast was the standard hotel fare – bagels, cereal, juice from a machine and premade batter for waffles with “Pancake syrup” (something that in my opinion should be outlawed in New Hampshire and replaced with our very own Maple syrup.)

When we finished, we went back to our room to collect our gear. From the “Local information folder” on the desk, I picked and called a cab company for our ride and then Griffin and I went downstairs to wait on a bench just outside the main entrance. We watched business men and women dressed in suits in a hurry, hurry, hurry getting rides to work. We saw an elderly couple gingerly get into their waiting cab. The man older, puffier and arthritically listing more than the woman – yet still holding the door open for her to get in.

Our cab arrived. We put our packs in the trunk and Griffin and I got in the back. I greeted our driver, a young woman, and told her where we wanted to be left off. She started driving and Griffin and I looked out the windows at the significant influence commerce had on an area. We saw stores and more stores. Food franchises with logos so common we recognized them from a distance. We saw traffic. Our driver honked when someone was sitting at a greenlight, phone in his hand, absorbed in another reality.

“Get going buddy!”

Static came over the radio and our driver had an unintelligible conversation with someone on the other end. “Sure, sure,” she replied to the microphone in her hand.

She turned to us – “I have to pick up another fare, do you mind?”

“Not at all,” I replied happy for the chance to see more of where we were going from the inside of a rolling chariot.

After a few minutes, the driver stopped her cab in a driveway and a young woman who had been waiting got in. She greeted us and started talking to the driver. Clearly these two already knew each other.

The woman was talkative and included us in her conversation. While I listened, I wanted to know more about her. I asked questions and found out about her story.

She was on her way to work at a local nursing home where she was paid $10 an hour.

I asked if she was eligible for benefits from her job.

They only let her work three 10 –hour days a week, so no, she didn’t get any benefits from work. But that made her eligible for state benefits.

She told us that she had Asperger’s and received state health insurance benefits that allowed her to get mental health services at a local clinic. However, recently her entire medical and psychiatric team had been switched and now “they didn’t have a clue” about how to treat her.

“I have to start all over again,” she sighed.

She also received $130 a month from the state for food.

The woman couldn’t afford a car, the gas, and the necessary driver’s insurance, so was dependent on using a cab to get to work and her friends to bum a ride when she wanted to go to a grocery store.

That meant that often she only got to the grocery store a few times a month – if she was lucky.

“I eat a lot of mac and cheese,” she told us “and there’s not much food left at the end of the month.” She told us she relied a lot on packaged foods and mixes. Fresh food went bad too quickly.

I thought back to the time when I had taken the SNAP challenge (lived on $32 for food for a week) and not only ate well but had money to spare. BUT, when I took the challenge, I had access to a car, access to grocery stores, and access to local gardeners selling produce at the end of their driveways for pennies.

And perhaps most importantly, after 25 years of having to feed my kids, I knew how to cook. Not only could I follow recipes, but I knew how to create new meals from what I had.

The only mac and cheese my kids ate was made from scratch.

We are so very fortunate.

But here, the people who absolutely needed fresh food for good health, and who needed the skills to be able to cook nutritious foods were falling through the cracks. You can’t eat well if you don’t have access to good food. And even if you have access to good food, if you don’t know how to prepare it, it’s useless.

I mentally added – “Create a seasonal eating plan with easy recipes for $130/month” – on my ever growing list of writing projects. As a writer, as a teacher and mother, it’s what I might be able to do to help.

Who knows? One voice raised is one more than was there before.

We arrived at the nursing home and the woman gathered her things.

“It’s $15 right?” she said digging some ragged bills out of her purse.

“Yeah, that’s right” said the driver.

“Does that include the tip?” asked the woman.

“Don’t worry about the tip,” our driver said. “This is my job, they pay me well.”

The woman said goodbye to us all and got out of the car.

“$15?!!” Griffin said after we got back on the road. “That’s an hour and a half of work. It’s like the system is trying to keep her in poverty.”

Our driver told us how jobs were tough up in this area of the state. She had applied at a ball bearing company but her application kept getting overlooked. “They like to hire the new kids out of high school, pay them a small salary, work them to death and then let them go. No one wants anyone with experience.”

She told us that she and her brother were trying to set up a small engine repair shop and they were trying to get enough money to buy the tools needed to get started. She hoped they would be up and running in a few months.

Just a few miles down the street had been the outlet stores. Scarves, knick-knacks, spaghetti spoons that looked like ducks, and here, just on the outside of all that commerce lived the people who were not benefiting at all from that money.

When life is tough like that, when you live in a situation where $10 an hour (especially when, as we were told, there is often food left over from nursing home events that you are allowed to eat) is considered a decent salary, then you take what you can get.

Even if you have to pay $15 to get to work and then back home again at the end of the day.


(Here’s some information on why we took this trip.)


Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at [email protected]

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